Ursa withdraws rezoning request for injection well
Ursa Resources and the developer of Battlement Mesa have dropped a zoning change proposal necessary for Ursa to pursue its controversial idea of operating a wastewater injection well near the community’s water intake on the Colorado River.
Battlement Mesa Co. is cutting by about half the size of a proposed zone district that would allow injection wells as a special use. The move eliminates the northern portion of what had been a 37-acre proposed district. That northern portion included a well-pad location where Ursa has approvals to drill for natural gas and had hoped to operate the injection well.
The revised zone district proposal still would encompass another location to the southwest where Ursa has begun the process of seeking approvals for an oil and gas pad that also could hold an injection well if local and state approvals are obtained.
The Garfield County Planning Commission was to have considered the original zone district proposal Wednesday night, but instead agreed to consider the revised application March 8.
Ursa had encountered considerable opposition to its original planned location for the injection well, which would have been about 600 feet from the water intake.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had objected to that location because of concerns that leaks from the well and associated storage tanks could threaten the water supply. That agency’s opposition was a primary factor in Garfield County planning staff also recommending that the Planning Commission and county commissioners reject the zoning change.
On Tuesday, Kent Kuster, an environmental specialist for the health department, wrote to the county that in a recent meeting with Ursa representatives his agency was made aware of an alternative injection well location to the west of Ursa’s originally envisioned site. Kuster wrote that the potential location would “reduce the associated risk to the public water supply,” is more protective of that supply and may warrant further local discussion.
Battlement Mesa is an unincorporated community of several thousand people. Dave Devanney of Battlement Concerned Citizens said the group’s members don’t want an injection well anywhere within Battlement Mesa. But the group had been particularly alarmed by the idea of an injection well in the vicinity of the water intake.
In a news release Wednesday, Devanney called the change in Ursa’s plans a victory for residents.
“It was clear that public opinion was against the idea of creating an injection well zone in our community, especially one so close to our drinking water supply,” Devanney said. “Although we may see this proposal resurface in another form, tonight residents of Battlement Mesa can take comfort knowing their water is safe — for now.”
Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said in the release, “This action shows that the people of Garfield County can stand up to the oil and gas companies and have an effect. Even people in support of natural gas development know that injection wells and wastewater disposal are dangerous. A line must be drawn somewhere and residents, the county, and the state made it clear Ursa had crossed it.”
Matt Honeycutt, Ursa’s operations superintendent, declined to say much Wednesday night about the revision in the injection well plans.
“Ultimately it’s to make a better project,” he said.
Don Simpson, Ursa’s vice president of business development, said earlier Wednesday, “We think we’ve come up with a better plan. We’re always looking at different locations, better locations.”
Eric Schmela, president of Battlement Mesa Co., which as the landowner is the applicant for the zoning change, said a number of considerations played into its decision to revise its proposal, from public input, to its own research and additional due diligence.
One member of the Planning Commission, Greg McKennis, sought unsuccessfully Wednesday night to postpone further consideration of the zoning application for 60 to 90 days to give Battlement Mesa residents a chance to fully learn what’s now being proposed and be able to better comment on it.
“This is a big change and we have no idea what those impacts will be,” he said. “… It’s vital that that community … has more than a couple weeks to do what they need to do to review this,” he said.
However, the applicants had a right to request another hearing sooner unless they waived it, which they weren’t willing to do.
“This timing becomes critical down the road to remove trucks off the road for our development plan,” Honeycutt told the commission.
Ursa says having an injection well will eliminate the need to truck away wastewater from drilling. It currently has approvals to drill more than 50 wells from two pads in Battlement Mesa and now is seeking approvals for three more well pads there.